Welcome back Godwits
by Rosemary Penwarden and Derek Onley
The godwits are back. They will have flown eight days non-stop for
11000 km at an
average speed of 56km/h to get back to their summer home at Blueskin Bay. Only
40% of the youngest, this year's chicks, will have made it across the Pacific.
In Europe the oldest recorded bar-tailed godwit is 34 years old. We
don' t know if ours live that
long, but there will be some who have been doing the 29,000 km round
trip to Blueskin
Bay for up to 20 years – that is, 522,000 km so far…
Last winter 140 birds stayed in the Bay; mainly those that were born
in Alaska last year.
They take the first year off to get better at feeding and growing for
the following year.
A few older birds also stay over; if their weight is too low when it
comes time to leave
they do not attempt the journey – perhaps these are older birds, or
ones that have had a
A big problem godwits face is disturbance - by dogs, humans, vehicles -
or in some places kite surfers. If their eating and sleeping patterns
get disturbed they will
not put on the weight and gain the stamina needed for the colossal
journey back to their
Alaskan breeding grounds.
We counted the 140 wintering godwits on the end of Warrington Spit on
Ten days later 120 were counted in Otago harbour – the same number that had been
there all winter. But on 26 September we saw 350 feeding at the end of
Some had returned. And then back at Warrington Spit on 5 October we
counted 630 - a
surprisingly high number so early in the season. The next day they
were down to 557 –
perhaps a few had continued their journey to Southland or over to
Aramoana or Hoopers
Inlet. Amongst them there were two juveniles, unusually early, as
juveniles tend to be the
last to leave Alaska.
Over those two days we were able to identify a few individuals from
their colour bands.
Four were godwits that were banded here at Warrington Spit on 28 Feb 2006; still
returning four years later. They were adults in 2006 so that makes
them at least 6 years old.
We also saw a bird that was banded as a juvenile at Awarua Bay in
Southland on 26
October 2004, making it just over 6 years old. We don' t know if this
was just a visitor,
but will be watching out to see if it is still here next time we count
them – perhaps
Blueskin Bay is just a stop off point. Another of the godwits has an
orange flag; it was
banded in southeast Australia, maybe on a detour on its way back from
Alaska. This bird
is likely to be the same one we have seen here for the past six or
seven years. We have
not yet seen BWRY – the godwit that we reported seeing last autumn in
nipping across to the Yellow Sea nine days later. He may be back at
his favourite spot at
It would be great to think our Blueskin Bay godwits get the best
possible opportunity to
succeed. Their schedule is tight and they need to be strong, well fed
and rested before their
return journey to the far north. For a few hours over high tide they
roost, sleep and
rest at the end of Warrington Spit. We really need to ensure that they
are not disturbed.
Watch where you walk near the spit, so as not to scare them off. And
for heaven's sake,
keep dogs on a lead and under control. The godwits have come so far,
surely the least we
can do is let them have a decent rest.
If anyone is interested in coming to see the godwits at high tide
through a telescope,
give Derek a ring on 4822831.
Ā ā Ē ē Ī ī Ō ō Ū ū
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